Ecology of Being

Over the coming months with funding through the Canada Council’s New Chapters program, we will embark upon “Ecology of Being” – a project involving five newly commissioned works which will pay homage to the earth, speak to climate change and consider what we may be leaving the next generation.  Through this project it is our hope that we will inspire reflection about the state of our natural world and the part mankind has played in its rapid, alarming, and ominous changes. This project is also about playing tribute to the gloriousness of our earth, celebrating its power and reflecting on our reliance on nature not only for survival but for our resilience and healing.  The composers for Ecology of Being are Dawn Avery, Carmen Braden, Ian Cusson, Melissa Hui and Bekah Simms; eco poems by Shannon Webb-Campbell are a part of Melissa’s work. (Thanks goes to Shannon for allowing us to use “Ecology of Being” (the title of one of her poems) as the name for the project as a whole.) We invite you to click on the Ecology of Being tab for photos, videos, thoughts about the project as we learn the works, interview the composers, and contemplate our relationship to our nature world.  You can also follow us on Instagram at and Facebook at  Please use #EOB to share your own thoughts and photos as well as a chance to be featured.

We all – hopefully – have a relationship with nature.  I (Nancy writing here) was lucky to grow up in a beautiful rural area of Nova Scotia, on a property of 85 acres, with chickens, pigs, big vegetable gardens and a lake in the middle of the woods all to ourselves. My parents had moved from Long Island, NY with my three older brothers (I was only two) leaving behind more financial stability and fancier schools for a “simpler” life of living off the land (and without a toilet for 4 years).

When I think about who I am it is intrinsically tied to those woods and fields –  woods in which I would play and build treehouses and fields I would lie in and hear the wind and birds and bugs and just breathe.  There was the delicious quiet of feeling small as I listened to nature’s exquisite sounds and a ridiculously fortunate and full space in which to exist. These are experiences I repeatedly summon during jet lagged, anxious nights, which moor my spinning head and calm a racing heart. Without these memories to hang on to, alongside daily ventures into nature for walks and runs, I am truly lost.

Tim shares similar experiences. The son of two biologists, his happiest childhood memories are of being at his father’s knee, following him along the banks of the South Saskatchewan river helping him collect prairie crocus, Saskatoon berries, wild rice and Equisetum on the wild prairie.  His father was years of ahead of his time in recycling – reusing, mending and mending again, making do – before that concept became a thing. Dinner conversations were about the rise of agriculture and its role in the decimation of habitat and ecosystems.

Years later now, Newfoundland has become our home and with it grows an ever-deepening respect for its winds and appreciation of its pristine and cleansing air. Stepping out of the airport after a tour (yes, I’m aware of/embarrassed by the irony inherit here), at the first deep breathe of that magnificent sea air, we say to ourselves, thankfully – we’re home.

It is difficult to even think about what our children’s future may become on this planet.  (I write this recognizing that, for many it is too late: climate crisis related despair and death has already come.) I am tempted to bury this grief, anxiety, guilt, and hopelessness, pushing them down as far as they will go. Thankfully, advocates like Greta Thunberg, Naomi Klein, David Suzuki and millions of protesters fiercely and fearlessly fight to try to keep our minds and hearts on task.

Music has often reflected upon social and political events of its time and our project aims to do that. Ecology of Being is about – through music and poetry – treasuring the earth, examining our complex relationship with it and truly valuing what we’ve taken for granted for so long.   It’s about thinking, feeling, experiencing both the trauma of a lost earth, but also about treasuring the joy of a world we love.

Special thanks to David Jaeger, Bev Diamond, and Christian Mondor at the Canada Council for your guidance and wisdom.

Five outstanding North American composers are involved in the project:

–  Melissa Hui, faculty of composition at McGill, formerly at Stanford, recipient of a Guggenheim fellowship (1997), Fromm Foundation commission (2000)

– Ian Cusson, Composer-in-Residence with the National Arts Centre Orchestra (2017-2019) and Composer-in-Residence for the Canadian Opera Company (2019-2021). Of Métis and French-Canadian descent, his work explores Canadian Indigenous experience including the history of the Métis people, the hybridity of mixed-racial identity, and the intersection of Western and Indigenous cultures

– Bekah Simms, JUNO nominee, 2019 Barlow Prize Winner, 2018 Karen Kieser Prize in Canadian Music

– Dawn Avery, Mohawk and American composer/ethnomusicologist and Grammy nominee

– Carmen Braden WCMA-nominated composer from Canadian sub-Arctic.

“Ecology of Being” will be featured in Canada in summer 2020 at Toronto Summer Music, Ottawa International Chamber Music Festival, Stratford Summer Music, Tuckamore Festival and Musique Royale.  Eco poetry by Shannon Webb-Campbell as well as short personal reflections by Dahn and Steeves will act as interludes between 50 minutes of new music in this program. The program has the flexibility to allow for a cameo short speech by local scientist or environmentalist.

Three in a Row

We were super surprised – not to mentioned SO delighted – to receive, for the third year running, the 2019 ECMA for Classical Recording of the Year.  This special recognition, for our holiday album Perfect Light, was extra meaningful because of Clifford Crawley’s role in the album: he, for no other reason than we asked him to, wrote us an entire CD worth of magical, ingenious, and surprisingly original arrangements. Sadly, these would be the last works he composed before his passing in February 2016; perhaps all too fittingly, the final piece on the record is the fragment of “In the Bleak Midwinter” which Cliff was unable to finish.

“Original arrangements” doesn’t really capture the treatment Cliff gave these Christmas standards. While he used the tune as a starting point, he quickly took the listener to truly unexpected harmonies and styles (a ¾ piece became a rumba, or a single line melody transformed into a canon in a way that seemed pre-ordained). 

Three in a Row

In addition to his extraordinary creativity, Cliff truly understood the instruments he wrote for and created beautiful and idiomatic material for the violin and piano, and clarinet. Christine Carter deserves recognition for her beautiful playing on five of the tracks.  Cliff would always ask, with characteristic humility, if there was anything we’d like him to modify, urging us not to hesitate to make changes ourselves. There never was and we never did.   

Clifford Crawley 1929 – 2016

Cliff’s time in Newfoundland was a gift to many classical musicians in St John’s. (He had followed his wife, the distinguished ethnomusicologist Bev Diamond, when she came to MUN.) His generosity as a composer and arranger resulted in many, many premieres over his 10+ years in NL with new works for solo piano, voice, orchestra, and various chamber ensembles.  For Duo Concertante, Cliff wrote over thirty fivepieces. Every time we pull out one of these works and see his distinctive hand-written parts we are especially grateful for and cognizant of his talent, wit, warmth, and generosity.  With these parts in front of us and his music in our fingers, we feel him with us still.



Duo Concertante – 20 years, China, Schubert, Commissions and Tuckamore

This New Year newsletter/blog is a bit tardy….  An 8 city China tour in December, immediately followed by the holidays where our expectations as parents kick in, and then concerts in early January with eight major pieces to prepare, distracted us a bit from sending out a timely message!  

It’s pretty hard to believe that we officially became Duo Concertante some twenty years ago this season. Here (at left) is one of our very first promo shots taken by Sheilagh O’Leary which we used during our very first tour to ON.  We’ve returned to many of these venues over the years, which is always meaningful, and one of these –  the Kitchener Waterloo Chamber Music Society – where we’ve played over a dozen time, will see us next week with our clarinettist friend Christine Carter. And we’ve just released with her Invitation, an album of trios by Milhaud, Khachaturian, Cardy and Poulenc which we’re pretty proud of.

So far, it’s been a busy and fun 2018-19 with over 35 recitals throughout Canada, US, Germany, the U.K. and the far east. China was especially memorable with its gigantic cities, lovely halls, (here we are in Beijing) friendly people, and, of course, amazing food. A typical day on the tour was: get up at 6 am, go to the airport, fly 2-4 hours to another major city, go to hotel, go to hall, warm up, play concert, go to hotel, sleep and repeat.   (We were a tad worried about the political situation between Canada and China which intensified as we were there (and continues to be heated), but thankfully we made it home.  Our wonderful tour manager ran things like clockwork –  from planning complicated itineraries to keeping us healthy and fed with fabulous, fresh food.

Since the beginning of Duo C, playing new Canadian music has been a “thing”. This year we commissioned two new pieces – Frisson by Randolph Peters and a major work by Melissa Hui will follow in 2019. These pieces join the 35+ plus works that we’ve commissioned (often with the assistance of the Canada Council) and premiered since 1998. We are thrilled that many of these have become a regular feature of new Canadian violin and piano programs by a younger generation of players.    

Photo by Bo Huang

Over the years, we’ve also loved focusing on complete cycles… first all the Beethoven sonatas, then Bach’s. Recently we’ve been recording the complete works for violin and piano by Schubert. Summer 2018 we put the Fantasy (Is that most difficult but also most beautiful work ever written for violin and piano?), Rondo Brilliante, and D major Sonatina “in the can” and this June we will finish up at the Glenn Gould Studio with the A major Sonata and 2 other Sonatinas.  It’s been a super rewarding project and such a treat to play these exquisite pieces.    

Another 20thanniversary milestone approaches in a year and a half – that of the Tuckamore Festival where we are Artistic Directors. This festival has grown from a two-week festival of four concerts to one with 30+ summer events and school concerts and other outreach activities that spill into the regular season. With the guidance of a great manager and excellent board, Tuckamore has been able to bring world class artists to audiences in Newfoundland as well as provide exceptional opportunities to over 350 emerging musicians and composers.  This summer, as part of Tuckamore, the Duo looks forward to travelling to central Newfoundland with actor/playwright Robert Chafe in a musical dramatic work that celebrates NL’s joining Canada 70 years ago.

On tour in Florida in 2003

The most noticeable change for us after twenty years is that instead of touring with a baby and toddler, we share our lives with two pretty darn awesome almost adults, Clara and Sasha.  They’ve always incredibly good sports about tolerating the craziness of our lives and we’re so glad they don’t mind the fact that they are being able to hum every major violin and piano work by heart.                                                  

Clara and Sasha (with Buzz) in Briggus NL in 2018.